While the Colosseum is a major tourist attraction today, back when the Roman Empire ruled it was a place of fighting, blood, and death. The colosseum was a source of entertainment for the people of Rome, as they witnessed the famed gladiators fighting to the death. The architectural design of the colosseum is an ingenious design, as well as the purpose and roles of it. The gladiators had an interesting history, as well as different classes and fighting styles.
After the reign of the tyrant Nero, the colosseum, or Flavian Amphitheatre, was built on what was his Golden House during the age of Vespasian. It was dedicated in 80 CE by Titus in a ceremony that lasted in 100 days of games. The 100 days of games had a purpose, which was to keep the people of Rome entertained. Entertained people are less likely to revolt against the government. The games were broken down into four parts. The early morning was taken up by ritual sacrifices, or “pompa”(Hronis 3). After that, the venatio, or wild beast hunts, took up most of the late morning. The ludi meridiani, or midday games, was the time when criminals, barbarians, prisoner of war, and other unfortunates were executed. Some were killed in what are called “fatal charades”(Mueller 5), where people were executed in ways that resembled Greek mythology. After the ludi meridiani came the main event: the gladiators.
The colosseum has a very ingenious architecture. Most amphitheatres during this time period were just hemisphere shaped. However, Emperor Vespasian took two hemispheres and put them together to make the oval shaped amphitheatre. Due to the incline of the inside, the colosseum has very good acoustics. The colosseum is 50 meters high, 189 meters long, and 156 meters wide. It covers 6 acres of land and could hold a maximum of 80,000 people. It originally had 60 to 80 rows of seats, each 40 cm apart with 70 cm of leg room. The circumference of the outer rim is 545 meters, and the center arena is 287 feet long and 180 feet wide(Dimensions 2).
The colosseum has three levels: the summa cavea, the highest level, which seated the women and slaves; the media cavea, the middle level, which seated the peasants and middle class; and the ima cavea, the lower level, which seated the government officials and people of higher status(3). The hypogeum, or underground, consisted of two subterranean networks of tunnels with 32 animal pens, with 80 shafts that provided instant access to the arena. The entire arena could be flooded through a nearby aqueduct for mock sea battles. The hypogeum allowed animals to enter the arena in many ways. Animals could come from the ground, or could be launched into the air.
It could also be used for comic effect: Emperor Gallienus punished a merchant who had swindled the empress, selling her glass jewels instead of authentic ones, by setting him in the arena to face a ferocious lion. When the cage opened, however, a chicken walked out, to the delight of the crowd. Gallienus then told the herald to proclaim: “He practiced deceit and then had it practiced on him.” The emperor let the jeweler go home.(5) During the show, stewards passed through the crowd carrying trays of pastries and sweetmeats. Sparsiones, perfumed water vapor, came from dispensers to mask the smells of the arena, as well as cool down the crowd. On hot days, the vela, or giant awning, would come out and shade the audience.
The gladiators were first introduced in 264 BC by Brutus to commemorate his dead father. The gladiators were highly celebrated among roman society despite being at the bottom of the class system. They were less likely to die than depicted, because they were difficult to train and take care of.
One example of a gladiator is Spartacus. Little is known about Spartacus, including his real name. He revolted against the Roman Empire, created a band of bandits, and made his headquarters in Mt. Vesuvius, the volcano next to Pompeii. He plundered Rome, and defeated Roman army after Roman army, but was killed by general Marcus Crassus. (Matyszak 4)
There were many different types of gladiators, each with different fighting styles. The Thracian was the most popular, and fought with a curved sword called a sica, a small square shield called a parmula. He wore an arm guard and leg guards, and a very ornate helmet. The Thracian fought against the hoplomachus. The hoplomachus fought with a straight sword and wore leg guards and a helmet. The hoplomachus fought the Thracian and the murmillo. The murmillo fought with a gladius, or short sword, a small wooden shield, and wore a helmet, an arm guard and leg guards.
They fought with the Thracian, hoplomachus, and retarius. The retarius fought with a trident and net, and wore an arm guard. They fought the murmillo and secutor. The secutor fought with a short sword and rectangular shield, and wore metal grieves. They fought the retarius. The eques fought on horseback, and fought with a lance and a small round shield called a “parma equestris.” Eques only fought other eques. (3)
The colosseum, now a famous tourist attraction, once held the gladiator games and was the symbol of Rome. The architecture of the colosseum and the hypogeum are well planned and remarkable, as well as the functions and purposes of it. In addition, the infamous gladiators had a very interesting history, and a complex class system. While it isn’t as imposing now, in its time it was a place of entertainment, but also a place to be feared.
1. “Colosseum.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica School Edition. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 2012
2. “Dimensions of the Colosseum.” 2008. Web 4 Apr. 2012. www.roman-colosseum.info/colosseum/dimensions-of-the-colosseum.htm 3. Hronis, Anastasia. “Ancient roman gladiators: Legends of the Arena: Anastasia Hronis Chronicles the rise and fall of History’s Greatest Warriors.” History Magazine 4.Matyszak, Phillip. “Gladiator: the Roman Fighter’s unofficial Manuel. 5.Mueller, Tom. “UNEARTHING THE COLOSSEUM’S SECRETS..(cover story).” Smithsonian 42.1 (2011) :26-35 History Reference Center. Web. 3 Apr. 2012